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Olmert gets nod to form Israeli government

Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received the official nod on Thursday to form a government, which he pledged would set Israel’s permanent borders within four years with or without Palestinian agreement.
/ Source: Reuters

Interim Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received the formal nod on Thursday to form a government, which he pledged would set Israel’s permanent borders within four years with or without Palestinian agreement.

“I have the honor to announce that I have decided to ask member of parliament Ehud Olmert to form the government,” President Moshe Katsav said at a ceremony with the Kadima party leader.

Olmert, whose centrist party came first in last week’s election with 29 seats in the 120-member parliament, will have 42 days to put together a governing coalition.

“I hope to form a government, which will have the broadest possible support, as quickly as possible,” Olmert said at a televised ceremony at which he accepted Katsav’s nomination.

The center-left Labor Party led by former trade union chief Amir Peretz has already agreed to a political partnership with Kadima. Kadima will now try to woo a smattering of smaller parties and set government guidelines.

Olmert has proposed to remove Jewish settlers from swathes of the occupied West Bank in the continued absence of peace talks with the Palestinians. At the ceremony, Olmert promised to make “a serious and genuine attempt” to revive peacemaking.

But he reiterated he wanted to reach “an understanding” with the United States and other countries on working “towards the fixing of the permanent border lines even without an agreement”.

Under Olmert’s “convergence plan,” Israel would keep major settlement blocs and trace its final frontier by 2010 along a barrier it is building in the West Bank, where 240,000 Israelis live among 2.4 million Palestinians.

Palestinians condemn such a move, saying it would annex land and deny the viable state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

With a new Palestinian government led by the Islamic militant group in Hamas in place, the prospect that peacemaking could be resumed soon seems unlikely.

Hamas Cabinet minister detained
In a sign of Israel’s tough stance toward the new Hamas-led government, Israeli security forces detained a Palestinian Cabinet minister at a roadblock in the occupied West Bank.

The Israeli army and Olmert’s office declined to comment on the incident.

Security officials quoted by the Haaretz web site said Khaled Abu Araf, an independent, was taken into custody because as the holder of an Israeli identity card, he is banned by Israel from areas administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Abu Araf can carry an Israeli ID because he lives in Arab East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and annexed in the 1967 Middle East war in a move that is not recognized internationally.

Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction, held its first cabinet meeting on Wednesday following its victory in the Jan. 25 Palestinian election.

Israel says it cannot consider dealing with Hamas until the Islamic group recognizes the Jewish state, renounces violence and accepts prior interim Israeli-Palestinian peace accords.

“The Occupation is continuing the escalation to undermine the work of the new government,” Palestinian cabinet spokesman Ghazi Hamad said in Gaza, using Hamas’ term for Israel.

“The arrest of a cabinet minister proves the falseness of Israel’s arguments that it seeks peace,” Hamad said.